at the Ships
sing of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus—
anger which condemned Achaeans
agonies and threw many warrior souls
Hades, leaving their dead bodies
for dogs and birds—
fulfillment of the will of Zeus.
Start at the
point where Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
that king of
men, quarreled with noble Achilles.
Which of the
gods incited these two men to fight?
That god was
Apollo, son of Zeus and Leto.
Agamemnon, he cast plague down
troops—deadly infectious evil.
had dishonoured the god’s priest,
come to the ships to find his daughter,
bringing with him a huge ransom.
Achaeans, above all the army’s leaders,
the two sons of
Agamemnon, sons of Atreus,
well-armed Achaeans, may the gods
grant you wipe out Priam’s city,
return home safe and sound.
dear child to me. Take this ransom.
Apollo, far-shooting son of Zeus.”
Achaeans roared out their support:
priest. Take the generous ransom.”
Agamemnon dismissed Chryses roughly—
me catch you by our hollow ships,
back here today or later on.
release the girl to you, no, not before
old with me in Argos, far from home,
loom, sharing my bed. Go away.
If you want
to get home safely, don’t anger me.”
The old man,
afraid, obeyed his words, walked off in silence,
along the shore
by the tumbling, crashing surf.
off, he prayed to Lord Apollo,
“God with the silver bow,
prayer: Force the Danaans
to pay full
price for my tears with your arrows.”
prayed. Phoebus Apollo heard him.
He came down
from Olympus top enraged,
carrying on his
shoulders bow and covered quiver,
rattling in anger against his arm.
So the god
swooped down, descending like the night.
He sat some
distance from the ships, shot off an arrow—
the silver bow
First, the god
massacred mules and swift-running dogs,
sharp arrows in among the troops themselves.
kept burning corpses ceaselessly.
For nine days
Apollo rained death down upon the troops.
On the tenth,
Achilles summoned an assembly.
Hera put that thought into his mind,
the Danaans, seeing them die.
gathered. The meeting came to order.
Achilles rose to speak:
we’re being beaten back, forced home,
aren’t all going to be destroyed right here,
and plague killing off Achaeans.
let’s ask some prophet, priest,
of dreams—for dreams, too, come from Zeus—
a man who
might say why Apollo is so angry,
faults our prayers and offerings,
somehow he’ll welcome sacrificial smoke
perfect lambs and goats, then rouse himself
us from this plague.”
Achilles spoke and took his seat.
Thestor’s son, stood up before them all,
the most astute
interpreter of birds, who understood
future, past. His skill in prophecy,
had led Achaean ships to Troy.
the troops, thinking of their common good:
does not fault us for prayers or offerings,
but for his
priest, disgraced by Agamemnon,
who did not
free his daughter and take ransom.
the archer god has brought disaster,
bring still more. He won’t remove
wretched plague from the Danaans,
hand back bright-eyed Chryseis,
give her to
her beloved father, freely,
ransom, and offer holy sacrifice
If we will carry out all that,
change Apollo’s mind, appease him.”
So he spoke and
sat back down. Then, Atreus’ son,
mighty Agamemnon, stood up before them,
spirit filled with huge black rage.
fire, he rounded first on Calchas:
evil, when have you ever said
to me? You love to predict the worst,
worst! You never show good news.
prophecy to the Danaans,
archer Apollo brings us pain
was unwilling to accept
for Chryses’ daughter, Chryseis.
But I have
a great desire to take her home.
prepared to give her back, if that’s best.
I want the
people safe, not all killed off.
you’ll owe me another prize.
I won’t be
the only Argive left without a gift.
be entirely unfair to me.
You all can
see my spoils are going elsewhere.”
At that point,
swift-footed Achilles answered the king:
of Atreus, most acquisitive of men,
brave Achaeans give you a prize now?
none left for us to pass around.
divided up what we allotted,
captured towns we devastated.
For men to
make a common pile again
most unfair. Send the girl back now,
as the god
demands. Should Zeus ever grant
Troy, a city rich in goods,
you three or four times as much.”
Agamemnon then said in reply:
you’re a fine man, like a god.
conceal what’s in your heart.
trick me or win me with your words.
to keep your prizes for yourself,
army takes my trophy from me.
you tell me to give Chryseis back.
Achaeans give me another prize,
value, something I’ll enjoy.
then I’ll take a prize myself by force,
The man I
visit is going to be enraged.
postpone discussion of all this.
a black ship down to the sacred sea,
crew, load oxen on for sacrifice,
Chryseis, that fair-complexioned girl,
so with a
sacrifice we may appease
the god who
shoots from far away.”
grimly, swift-footed Achilles interposed:
insatiable creature, quite shameless.
come to battle over here
Trojans. I have no fight with them.
stole my bulls or horses,
or razed my
crops in fertile Phthia,
heroes grow. Many shady mountains
roaring sea stand there between us.
great shameless man, we came with you,
you, to win honour from the Trojans—
dog face, and for Menelaus.
consider this, don’t think at all.
threaten now to confiscate the prize
I worked so
hard for, gift from Achaea’s sons.
Achaeans loot some well-built Trojan town,
never match the ones you get.
share of war’s fury rests on me.
But when we
hand around the battle spoils,
much larger trophies. Worn out in war,
I reach my
ships with something fine but small.
return home now, back to Phthia.
better to sail back in my curved ships.
fancy staying here unvalued,
to pile up
riches, treasures just for you.”
Agamemnon, king of men, shot back:
home then, if that’s your heart’s desire.
beg you to stay on my account.
others around to honour me,
all-wise Zeus himself.
Of all the
kings Zeus cherishes, it’s you
I hate the
most. You love constant strife—
combat. So what if you’re strong?
gave you that. So scurry off home.
and friends. Go rule your Myrmidons.
like you or care about your rage.
make this threat: I’ll take your prize,
fair-cheeked Briseis. I’ll fetch her in person.
just how much I’m the better man.
will hate to speak to me as peers,
claiming full equality with me.”
spoke, Peleus’ son, Achilles,
with anguish, heart torn two ways,
debating in his
shaggy chest what he should do:
Should he draw
out the sharp sword on his thigh,
crowd, kill Atreus’ son, or suppress his rage,
fury? As he argued in his mind and heart,
he slid his
huge sword part way from its sheath.
At that moment,
Athena came down from heaven.
Hera sent her. She cherished both men,
cared for them
equally. Athena stood behind Achilles,
grabbed him by
his red-brown hair, invisible to all
Achilles. In astonishment he turned.
At once he
recognized Pallas Athena,
glitter in her eyes. Achilles spoke—
his words had
you come now?1 Do you wish to see
overbearing Agamemnon is?
you where all this is going to lead:
arrogance will soon cost him his life.”
Athena then spoke in reply:
down from heaven to curb your passion,
obey. White-armed Hera sent me.
you both alike, cares equally.
this quarrel. Don’t draw your sword.
with words, so he becomes disgraced.
For I say
to you, and this will happen,
gifts three times greater than this girl
will be set
down before you. Control yourself.
Achilles answered Athena:
men should follow your instructions,
angry in their hearts. It’s better so.
who’s obedient to the gods,
attend to all the more.”
Obeying Athena’s words,
relaxed his huge fist on the silver hilt
and pushed the
massive sword back in its scabbard.
returned to heaven, home of Zeus,
who bears the
aegis, and the other gods.
again on Agamemnon, Atreus’ son,
abuse, his anger still unabated:
drunken sot, dog-eyed coward, timid as deer.
A king who
gorges on his own people!
You lord it
over worthless men. If not,
Atreus, this would be your last offence.
you, swear a great oath on this point,
sceptre, which Achaea’s sons take in hand
they do justice in Zeus’ name.
An oath on
this has power. On this I swear—
will come when Achaea’s sons
Achilles, a time when, in distress,
my help, a time when Hector,
killer, destroys many warriors.
will tear your hearts apart,
shamed Achaea’s finest man.”
So the son of
Peleus spoke, throwing to the ground
with the golden studs. Then he sat down,
stood up, clear, sweet orator from Pylos.
honey the words flowed from his tongue.
their common good, he said:
is great sorrow for Achaeans.
Priam’s children will be glad,
of other Trojans swell with joy,
find out about such quarreling,
between you two, among Danaans
best for counsel or combat.
You are both younger men than I.
been colleague of better men than you,
heard me and followed my advice.
both of you. That’s what’s best now.
you’re an excellent man,
but do not
take Briseis from Achilles.
pass. Achaea’s sons gave her to him first.
Peleus’ son, don’t seek to fight the king,
not as your
enemy. Son of Atreus, check your anger.
I urge you, your rage against Achilles,
provides, in the middle of war’s evils,
defence for all Achaeans.”
Agamemnon then replied to Nestor:
everything you say is true enough.
man wants to put the rest to shame,
rule all of
us, lord it over everyone.
But some, I
think, will not obey him.
So what if
the gods, who live forever,
made him a
spearman? Is that some reason
let him say such shameful things?”
interrupting Agamemnon, shouted:
called a coward, a nobody,
if I held
back from any action
something you might say.
men about. Don’t tell me
should do. I’ll not obey you any more.
But I will
tell you this—remember it well—
raise my hand to fight about that girl,
against you or any other man.
Achaeans gave her to me, and now,
her back again. But you’ll not take
thing from my swift black ship—
nothing else with my consent.
like to see what happens, just try.
will quickly drip with your dark blood.”
Then they stood
up, dissolving the assembly by the ships.
dragged a swift ship down the shore,
sailors, loaded it with oxen,
the god, and led on fair-cheeked Chryseis.
shipped on as leader. All aboard,
they set off,
carving a pathway through the sea.
ordered troops to cleanse themselves.
The men bathed
in the sea, washed off impurities.
They then made
sacrificial offerings to Apollo—
perfect bulls and goats—beside the restless sea.
curled up amid the smoke high into heaven.
The men thus
occupied, Agamemnon did not forget
he’d made earlier to Achilles.
He called his
heralds, Talthybius and Eurybates:
Achilles’ tent, Peleus’s son,
fair-complexioned Briseis by the hand.
to me. If he won’t surrender her,
myself in force and take her.
that will be a worse disaster.”
With these firm
orders, he dismissed the men, who moved off,
along the shore of the restless sea.
the huts and ships of the Myrmidons.
found Achilles seated by his hut
and his black
ship. As he saw them approach,
in his heart
Achilles sensed their purpose. He called them.
heralds, messengers for gods and men.
I don’t blame you, but Agamemnon.
you both here for the girl Briseis.
Patroclus, born from Zeus, fetch the girl.
Give her to
these two men to take away.
both witness, before blessed gods,
and that unfeeling king,
there’s a need for me again
others from a shameful death.”
as his dear comrade had requested.
He led out
fair-cheeked Briseis from the hut
and gave her up
to be led off. The heralds went back,
Achaean ships, Briseis with them,
but against her
Achilles then, in tears,
his companions, sat by the shore,
staring at the
wide gray seas. Stretching out his hands,
he cried aloud,
praying repeatedly to Thetis,
since you gave me life—
if only for
a while—Olympian Zeus,
thunderer, should give me due honour.
doesn’t grant me even slight respect.
wide-ruling Agamemnon, Atreus’ son,
me, has taken away my prize,
appropriated it for his own use.”
As he said this, he wept.
mother heard him from deep within the sea,
where she sat
by her old father. Quickly she rose up,
gray waters, like an ocean mist,
down before him, as he wept. She stroked him,
“My child, why these tears? What sorrows
your heart? Tell me, so we’ll both know.
from me what’s on your mind.”
With a deep
groan, swift-footed Achilles then replied.
I tell you what you know? Heralds came
away Briseis from my huts,
who is my gift from Achaea’s sons.
So now, if
you can, protect your son.
Go to Mount
Olympus, implore Zeus,
if ever you
in word or deed have pleased him.
For often I
have heard you boast in father’s house
alone of all the deathless gods
of the dark clouds from disgraceful ruin.
knee, remind him of all that,
want to help the Trojans somehow,
Achaeans by the sea, by their ships’ prows,
destroyed, so they all enjoy their king,
so the son
of Atreus, wide-ruling Agamemnon,
see his foolishness, dishonouring
the best of the Achaeans.”
shedding tears, answered her son, Achilles:
child, why did I rear you,
brought you up to so much pain?
tell these things to thunder-loving Zeus.
myself to snow-topped Mount Olympus,
to see if
he will undertake all this.
you should sit by your swift ships,
Achaeans. Take no part in war.
I’ll go to
Zeus’ bronze-floored house, clasp his knee.
I’ll get him to consent.”
Then she went
away, leaving Achilles there.
sailed to Chryse, bringing with him
sacrificial animals as sacred offerings.
had sailed into deep anchorage,
in the sails and stowed them in the ship,
the ship in to its mooring place.
Chryseis disembarked from the ocean ship.
Odysseus led her to the altar,
in her beloved father’s hands, then said:
have been sent by Agamemnon,
men, to bring your daughter to you,
on behalf of the Danaans,
to make an
offering to lord Apollo—
sacrificial beasts—to placate the god,
inflicts such dismal evil on us.”
arms, Chryses prayed out loud on their behalf:
god of the silver bow, protector
mighty lord of holy Cilla,
Tenedos. You heard me earlier,
prayed to you. Just as you honoured me,
hard against Achaeans then, so now,
what I pray for—remove disaster,
wretched evil, from the Danaans.”
spoke. Phoebus Apollo heard him.
Achilles, divinely born son of Peleus,
sat down in
anger alongside his swift ships. Not once
did he attend
assembly where men win glory,
or go out to
fight. But he pined away at heart,
by his ships, yearning
for the hue and
cry and clash of battle.
Thetis did not
forget the promise to her son.
She rose up
through the ocean waves at day break,
then moved high
up to great Olympus. She found Zeus,
of Cronos, some distance from the rest,
seated on the
highest peak of many-ridged Olympus.
She sat down
right in front of him. With her left hand,
his knees, with her right she cupped his chin,
to lord Zeus, son of Cronos:
Zeus, if, among the deathless gods,
served you well in word or deed,
my prayer will be fulfilled.
honour to my son, who, of all men
Fate’s quickest victim. For just now,
king of men, has shamed him.
his prize, robbing him in person,
and kept it
for himself. But honour him,
all-wise Olympian. Give the Trojans
hand, until Achaeans respect my son,
multiply his honours.”
Zeus, greatly troubled, said:
What you say
will set Hera against me.
She provokes me
so with her abuse. Even now,
in the assembly
of immortal gods,
insulting me, accusing me
the Trojans in the war.
But go away for
now, in case Hera catches on.
I’ll take care
of this, make sure it comes to pass.
convince you, I’ll nod my head.
that’s the strongest pledge I make.
Once I nod my
assent, nothing I say
can be revoked,
denied, or unfulfilled.”
Zeus, son of
Cronos, nodded his dark brows.
The divine hair
on the king of gods fell forward,
down over his
immortal head, shaking Olympus
to its very
base. The conference over, the two parted.
from bright Olympus back into the sea.
meeting of the gods, Zeus quarrels with Hera, who has
has just promised to do for Thetis. Hephaestus soothes
everyone. The gods enjoy
a rich feast and then retire to bed.]